Central Lakes College Raiders baseball coach Warren Mertens wants to win with area athletes and sees no reason why he can't.
And, to find local talent, there is no better place to start than Brainerd High School.
The Raiders, who are 14-2 in the North Division and 16-4 overall, boast five former Warrior players, and each are making a significant contribution in CLC's success.
Nate Huber, Derek Owen and Matt Parker, all second-year Raiders and 1998 BHS graduates, were recruited heavily by last year's coach Jim Russell, while Nic Hanson, a 1997 graduate, and Mike Innes, a 1999 graduate, are playing their first seasons at CLC.
"It is good for the school to have kids from around the area because a lot of people follow these kids through high school and they can keep following them through college," said Mertens, in his fifth year as head coach after a five-year absence. "They are names they're familiar with. Plus, there are enough good kids to have a decent squad."
And, if someone has followed Warrior baseball in recent years they certainly know the aforementioned names.
Huber leads the Raiders with a .576 average in division play, while leadoff hitter Innes is batting .357 with seven steals and 11 RBI. Hanson is hitting .310 with two home runs and catcher and clean-up hitter Owen has three home runs and 12 RBI. Parker (3-1, 2.00 ERA) is part of a pitching staff that has a 1.21 team ERA in division play.
"We're having fun and it's fun to play when the group of guys are this good," said Owen, who caught 50 innings in an eight-game, four-day stretch last week. "When you're winning ballgames you're having fun. Scoring runs is fun. There is a lot of talent on this team and it takes a lot of pressure off you at the plate and in the field when you're already ahead."
Part of the reason the Raiders are having success and having that much fun is Mertens. He has acquired top-notch talent from Roseau to Wadena to Lester Prairie.
"(Mertens) is laid back but not to the point where people are messing around," said Innes, who almost didn't come out for the team. "He relaxes me in the games. There is not as much pressure as when I played for the Warriors because I kind of had to get things started. I'm having a lot of fun."
Mertens has been especially helpful in developing the pitchers. He was a pitcher in the Twins' organization for a number of years. He participated in spring training at Class AAA, but spent two years of his pro career throwing for the Orlando Twins in AA.
"He's really knowledgeable," said Parker. "He changed my motion a little bit right away this year. With his pitching background, whatever he says you're going to listen."
Mertens is just the latest in a line of quality coaches for Hanson.
"I've had good coaches all the way up," said Hanson, who plays second base for the Raiders and played shortstop for the Warriors. "Mertens has been through the game, and for the pitchers, you couldn't ask for a better coach.
"Lowell Scearcy is a great coach and he teaches you how to play ball and think through baseball. He knows how to coach ball. Also, my dad taught me how to play the game and he was a big ballplayer. Things come natural to me."
Scearcy and his program had a major effect on all five Warriors. Those players -- from the way they swing the bat to the way they take care of the field -- have used Scearcy's input to become better overall players.
"I like to think we've had an impact (at CLC) because we had played with each other and there's a little chemistry right there," said Hanson, who attended Lake Superior College before CLC and also plays for the Brainerd Braves amateur team. "We're strong fundamental players and we know the mental stuff out on the field. We bring good baseball, good clean baseball. We know how to do things like take care of fields. The high school has such a great field and the kids have to work on it and learn appreciation."
All five Raiders had storied high school careers. Huber hit .376 his senior year with three home runs and 12 doubles and was named the most improved player. Owen hit .333, belted six home runs, drove in 31 RBI (third all-time at BHS) and earned the Golden Glove Award his senior year at first base. Innes led off for the Warriors in 1999 and hit .350, Hanson hit .314 with 11 RBI in 1997 and Parker finished his career 6-1 with a 4.76 ERA.
"Coach Scearcy really worked with us to keep it one motion, one quick swing," said Huber, who was All-Region 13 as a Raiders freshman. "We bring leadership; everybody on the team knows what level Brainerd plays at and it helps them play to that level."
Scearcy has coached 28 years at Brainerd with a 385-182 record. His teams have won the Central Lakes Conference six times and competed in the state tournament four times in the 1990s.
"Coming from the Brainerd program, compared to the other kids that don't have the program, you can tell the difference," Parker said. "It's like we already knew it and the other kids are just learning it. A lot of it is knowing how to win. We only had three of us Brainerd guys last year and we'd get leads and find ways to blow it, but this year we get the lead and we got it."
Said Owen: "You know how to win and you know what it takes to win. (Scearcy) runs such a great program. You know the little things that win ballgames and that carries over to the team we have now."
If it has carried over as well as it has so far in the 2000 season, who knows what the Raiders may be capable of doing.
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